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GROCKLE ALERT! (Dorset Tales 1)

Grockle Gear

Grockle Gear

We have been back from our extended seven week camping holiday in France for just over a week now … and we are still in ‘holiday mood’! Both Julia and I are feeling very relaxed, despite the problems awaiting us on our return home with the phones and the internet … and the mountain of washing that needed to be done as well. Both the phones and the internet are fixed now … restoring all the ‘lost information’ on the computer is taking a little longer … and the washing is all done (although the corresponding mountain of ironing is still in process).

One of the reasons why we could get all the washing done so quickly is that the weather here in Dorset is beautiful and sunny. After the welcome ‘downpour’ last week, for a day or so, the sun is out in all its glory … and so is our ‘whirligig’ flying a wonderful collection of assorted tee-shirts, shorts, ‘nicky-nacky-noos’, etc. We like to take our main summer holiday in June-July is because it means we can be home for August … when the sun is usually shining here in Dorset. Weymouth in particular can be a real ‘sun-trap’ for residents and visitors alike at this time of the year.

The sun is not the only thing that is ‘out and about’ in Dorset this week. We have been out in either Dorchester or Weymouth most mornings this week. Haircuts, visits to the optician, clothes shopping for Julia’s mother, and so on, have all required various trips out … and the requisite stops for various coffees, breakfasts, and lunches, of course. And the sun, and ourselves, are also not the only ones ‘out and about’ in Dorchester and Weymouth either. There are ‘grockles’ everywhere!

Now, for the uninitiated, a ‘grockle’ is an informal and often slightly derogatory term for a tourist. It was first popularized because of its use by the characters in the 1964 Michael Winner film The System starring Oliver Reed, Jane Merrow, Barbara Ferris, and Julia Foster. The film is largely set in the Devon resort of Torquay during the summer season. Some have suggested that ‘grockle’ is an old West Country dialect word, but it is more likely that the term originated in a comparison of red-faced tourists (wearing funny clothing and handkerchiefs on their heads) to ‘Grock’, a clown and music-hall performer who was famous in the first half of the 20th century. According to research by a local journalist in the mid-1990s, the word in fact originated from a strip cartoon in the children’s comic Dandy entitled ‘Danny and his Grockle’ (a magical dragon-like creature). A local man (who had had a summer job at a swimming pool as a youngster) is thought to be the originator of the term being applied to tourists. Apparently he had used it as a nickname for a small elderly lady who was a regular customer one season. During banter in the pub among the summer workers, ‘grockle’ then became generalized as a term for summer visitors.

Having lived in Dorset for almost five years now, Julia and I are no longer considered ‘grockles’ ourselves … we are now ‘locals’ because we live here all the year round. For most of the year Dorchester and Weymouth are lovely places top be. We jokingly suggest to others that living almost equidistant between the two, as we do, that we visit Dorchester ‘for culture’ and Weymouth ‘for fun’. In fact we really like both towns in their different ways. In the Easter school holidays, and especially the summer months of July and August, however, we see a big change with the descent of the ‘grockle’ hoards. You can tell them a mile off. Its not just the ‘foreign accents’ … the Welsh, Manchester, Birmingham dialects … or even the ‘pale skin’? Its well … almost everything about them! Take the clothing for example. Whatever the weather … especially at Easter when it can actually be quite cold … the ‘grockle’ is determined to wear their ‘holiday clothes’. This is especially true in Weymouth where you see a ‘grockle’ wearing his ‘off-the-shoulder vest’, outrageously-patterned below the knee shorts, sandals or flip-flops (sometimes with socks as well), carrying his assorted ‘beach ware’ … sun umbrella, beach mat, cool box, beach towel, etc. I have singled out the men here, but the women and the children can be just as bad. There can be snow on the ground in Weymouth and your ‘grockle’ will still be wearing (and carrying) ‘all the gear’!

Julia and I have an expression we use when visiting Dorchester or Weymouth during the holiday season … ‘Grockle Alert!’ We use it not only to point out some of the hilarious clothing they appear in, but to warn one another of the eccentricities of ‘grockle behaviour’ . ‘Grockle driving’ is particularly bad. They never seem to know where anything is … car parks etc., or which streets to turn up or down, and they have no compulsion about stopping in the most awkward places to consult a map (if they have one) or debate with their SatNavs? And if ‘Grockle driving’ is bad, ‘Grockle walking’ is even worse … especially if they are on their way from the car park to the beach. The long-term car parks in Weymouth are on the edge of town, necessitating the ‘Grockle walk’ through the town centre to the beach. Armed with everything one could possible need for a day on the beach (and often a load of things you don’t really need … I mean who needs an electric kettle?) the ‘grockles’ march through the shopping precinct knocking people out of the way with their huge bags of stuff whilst endeavouring to poke people’s eyes out with their sun umbrellas. This is especially true when you find yourself confronted with a ‘family of grockles’ … father, mother, loads of kids, grandparents, assorted other relatives and friends … it is like Hannibal crossing the Alps with his elephants? It is a case of keep clear or be flattened!

And then there is the ‘grockle conversation’ which, as an inveterate ‘people watcher’, I often find absolutely hilarious.  It is not just the ‘yearly observations’ that the regular annual holiday makers make … the people who come to Weymouth or Dorchester every year with out fail, and have been doing so for 20 or 30 years.  ‘Ooooh! Look, Ethel … that new gift shop over there … used to be ladies hairdressers, you know!’ says one. ‘See that Pound Shop … used to be Woolworth’s, you know!’ says another. (Actually the Pound Shop in Weymouth never was a ‘Woolworths’). No, it is often the weird nature of the conversation itself? Let me give you an example. I was in the hairdressers in Dorchester earlier this week waiting to have my hair cut. There were several other people waiting for their turn as well, including a local man, and a couple of ‘grockles’.  The ‘grockle’ husband was wanting a haircut, and his wife was waiting with him to make sure he had enough cut off! (Why do people wait until they are on holiday in order to get a haircut?)

Well the local man had just come back from France (like us) and was extolling the virtues of holidaying in France. The grockles explained that they were ‘from Frimley’ and down here on holiday. ‘We always come to Dorset’ said the husband, ‘you would not get me going to France!’. ‘Admittedly the weather is usually better in France’ he went on ‘and the food is a lot better too!’ ‘And you can sit outside in the sun in the cafés and restaurants in France! And you can sit there for as long as you like with no-one telling you to move on! And they have those big umbrella things to shelter you from the sun! And they have really good wine … and you get far more for your money with the euro being what it is! But we always come down to Dorset for our holidays … you won’t get me going to France!’

Yes, Dorset is full of ‘grockles’ at this time of the year … but actually places like Weymouth and Dorchester need them. Tourism is the big ‘money spinner’ around here and it is tourism – especially during the summer months – that keep many of the local shops solvent for the whole year. So we welcome the ‘grockles’, mindful of the fact that by ‘not neglecting to show hospitality to strangers’ we have perhaps ‘sometimes entertained angels without knowing it’ (Hebrews 13: 1). Being a ‘grockle’ doesn’t mean that you are a ‘bad person’ … just ‘different’ … well, at least for two weeks in the year. I mean, back in posh Frimley, you wouldn’t be seen dead in an ‘off the shoulder vest’, frightfully coloured shorts, sandals with socks, and a silly hat, would you?


Jim Binney


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